Everyone Who Hears
6 May 2018
We are still dwelling in a liminal time. Jesus has died and been resurrected but has not yet ascended (that happens on the 10th) nor has the Holy Spirit come (two weeks from today), if you follow the Acts version of the story. But none of the really matters at all. Not at all. What matters is where we see ourselves in this story. Do you see yourself in the light, the light of Christ? Or are you just going through the motions? When I was a child I thought like a child, yet I went through the church year NOT with awe and wonder and a sense of curiosity. Christmas was the exception then, thanks be to God, a time where the “almost but not yet” became reality; a time for Narnia. Easter was joy, but as a child a kind of a joy I did not yet understand. Maybe it was more about flowers and Easter egg hunts (for real eggs). The rest of the year was lived with the mediaeval mindset of “am I good enough?”. Will I go to hell? God was a stern taskmaster who kept track of every misdeed. I remember one time going to Sunday school with a friend. My father was working Sundays in those days and the Sunday school teacher said that was wrong and sinful and he should not be working on a Sunday. I was afraid for my father for some time.
But now that I am older I am much more the child!! I live the seasons of the church year and, truth be told, one is no better than another. All have a story to tell us; all have their place. This year Easter is teaching me to truly understand the meaning of inclusion. As I read the lectionary I keep coming back to this radical message: there is no one who is excluded from the table unless they so choose.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word.
Two words: “everyone” and “heard.” My own story is not like the almost instant quality of conversion in Acts. It is more like a someone walking on a long journey who obtains a small thing here and another thing there until one day you realize you have all you need to make a completed piece of art or a fine feast or whatever you desire. My own coming to understanding was like far off music to which I finally came near enough to hear and comprehend. I became one of the “everyone” who heard the Word.
What is your story? When did you first have that “ah-hah” that made you realize you understood and that this was a full commitment and would require your whole being? Do you fully believe there are no “outsiders”? I know plenty of people who are good folk but have not heard the word; they are excluded from community by their own choice, not ours. I also know people who have heard the word and felt the Spirit, or long for the Spirit, but it is not extended to them by the community because we have forgotten that only God makes the rules.
It does not mean that the bar is set low; on the contrary if you believe and accept the word you are accepting a very high bar. It is harder to be inclusive and to live into being a follower of Jesus than to be exclusionist and live into your own beliefs. Look at Peter!! First were the visions he had of all the clean and unclean animals together. It took God three times to get Peter to understand. Then he goes to meet Cornelius, the Roman centurion who lives the spirit of the law and Peter still does not want to associate with him. Finally, after admitting that God looks at things a lot differently than he did, Peter is blown away that the Holy Spirit would be bestowed upon Gentiles. Come on Peter, just how dense are you? Well, as my mother would say, don’t complain about how dirty someone’s house is before you have your own house in order.
You may think that to open our hearts and our lives to strangers, the other, would cause us great anxiety and fear. If it does, we have surely misread Jesus. He said follow me. It is easier to worship him than to follow him. We have too many things to do and it is far more fearful to follow than to worship. We would like to keep our yard fenced in. It does keep the deer away from the hosta. We are not asked to include those who are genuinely evil, but at the very least we must be open to praying for those who not only are hurting and in need, but for those who have closed the door to God.
I sometimes thing I should carry a vial of water around with me and sprinkle it on anyone and everyone. That may be taking things a bit far but surely we do not sprinkle water enough. People who know me know I like to be generous with the water from the font at the Easter Vigil. What if we all took one of those aspergillum, soaked it, and went out the door and down the street sprinkling everyone we saw with Holy Water? OK, not exactly the Episcopal thing to do and it might upset those so doused. But you get the point! Let’s be generous: generous with our words, generous with our deeds; generous with our water. God, as Peter came to understand, (and as I have slowly come to understand), is generous beyond anything we could hope to be. As someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus I must learn to claim that same wonderful belief that this is not a zero-sum world and that only a few are worthy to be called children of the most high.
Instead I need to heed the words of the Gospel today: Love one another and dwell in that love. To obey God is not to avoid swear words or eat the wrong kind of fish (catfish instead of walleye) or stay away from your version of the unclean, but rather it is simply to love. To obey God is to love others and Christian love is service. If I as your priest love you, it means I believe there is no hierarchy and that I am here as a servant. If we love one another as God intended, we also love ourselves. If we do not, it is not love.
Bishop Steven Charleston, a member of the Choctaw nation, puts it this way: “The love of God knows no boundary, recognizes no limit, ceases at no check point of our religious or political correctness, but sweeps through every wall we erect, circumvents every claim of exclusion we invent, ignores every line we draw in the sand of faith and history , and with a power born of mercy and forgiveness, touches every life on this planet with the intention of kindness, the healing of compassion, the vision of a new hope, not meant for the select few, but for the many, for the whole, for the smallest child in the most isolated village on the far side of grandeur.”